Any one who watches Drag Race knows that it’s a very different show now than it was when it first premiered on Logo in 2009. Since its debut, the show has amassed a huge fanbase, changed popular culture, and moved from the LGBTQ+-centric channel Logo to VH1.
Maybe no one knows more about the show’s evolution than Alaska and Willam, two queens who have gone from Drag Race viewers, to Drag Race contestants, to now Drag Race commentators, with their podcast Race Chaser.
We met up on a Friday night — the same night Drag Race All Stars airs — as they were getting ready to take the stage for Race Chaser Live! the staged version of their podcast, which featured a cameo from season 2 queen Jujubee, as well as two live ponies on stage. They spoke to Out about the show's production, whether Gia Gunn received a "villain edit," and Manila Luzon's period dress.
Can you talk about the impetus behind wanting to create Race Chaser?
Willam: Alaska and I were stuck in the Burning Man exit line for six or seven hours and the only thing we had to listen to —
Alaska: It was like six hours or more sitting in a car with a long line of 100s and 100s of cars!
Willam: — so all we had to listen to was her phone and the library on it only had Out on the Lanai, the Golden Girls podcast.
Alaska: We had no phone service so we couldn’t stream stuff, but we had downloaded all these episodes of this podcast. Basically they just watch an episode of the Golden Girls and then they talk about it. And we were like, we should do this for Drag Race!
For Race Chaser, you just finished recapping season 2 and it’s one of my favorite seasons of Drag Race, so I just wanted to know what you think are the biggest changes from Drag Race season 2 to now?
Alaska: I have one! The awareness of social media is like … it’s definitely changed the show to the point where now people are talking about it on screen. It had never been that way before like people were like, “You have a lot of fans online and your fans love you so I’m going to be nice to you on TV.” Like they actually say that!
Willam: “I can’t send you home because everyone will hate me!” “Latrice is the beloved!” They think about it. They think about the future because in season two it's like, “I’m going to do this TV show and then do some gigs maybe after” and now it’s like — this TV show can make or break you depending on what you do and can get you death threats or accolades.
I also feel like the way it’s produced is different, too. There’s a meta element to the show.
Alaska: Completely. It’s very aware of itself.
Willam: But the best things are. But it’s also at the point where the monster can eat its own head.
Can you give me an example of that?
Willam: Sure, Drag Race is a show about being accepting of all different kinds of drag and they can make jokes about “patient zero” about Lady Bunny, but they won’t let Manila wear a period dress because it’s in “bad taste?” It’s not in bad taste! Most of our fan base, 57% of my Instagram is women. Women get periods. It’s not bad taste, so like, the fact that like there’s missteps like that … I’m shocked at the stuff that goes through and I’m shocked at the stuff that doesn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason. They’re producing a TV show and doing a great job, it’s a great show.
Do you think an outfit like that, someone would've gotten away with it on an earlier season?
Alaska: I don’t think it would have flown in earlier seasons, but I’m wondering who they’re worried about offending, because to us and to this younger generation, they’re very willing to go there and they’re not going to be upset and write angry letters, they’re going to be like, “Work, yes!”
Willam you’ve been critical of the show in the past and Alaska you’re a winner of the show, so some people feel like it might be an odd pairing. Do you ever feel like you’re not allowed to say certain things as a winner?
Willam: I think it’s like the voice of treason and the voice of reason. But my policy is: “I’ve learned that speaking negatively about others, even if it’s true, doesn’t positively impact me.” Usually. So I’ve tried to curb it. My motto with Race Chaser is: “Keep it cute, but don’t be afraid of the truth.” And that’s what I try to do because I’m a fan of the show. I’m a huge fan. Last week, I fucking loved Ru’s outfit and I put up a post, I said I love this asymmetrical hair, Delta won the Emmy this reason for good reason, it looked like Mathu [Anderson]’s old school hair, the asymmetry and everything. But I went up about Manila not being able to wear the outfit that she chose, because it was gobsmacking.
Alaska: I don’t feel like I can’t say things, but I believe in the magic of the show. I think we both do.
Willam: Yeah, we don’t need to reveal everything.
Alaska: We don’t want to pull back the curtain completely. I like to give a little peek, a little sneak for the “Ooh!” but I don’t like to pull back the curtain completely because I believe in the magic of the show. Kids out there watching it, they believe in it, it’s like Willy Wonka’s factory, it’s like Santa Claus’s workshop.
So this season there was the episode “Roast in Peace” with a lot of twists: All Stars rules suspended, queens returning, four people in the bottom, no one goes home. What do you think about the increasing reliance on twists?
Willam: Four bottoms in any room is too many. Sorry.
Alaska: I love it. I think the twists are great as long as they’re great for the show and it’s going to lead to the best woman winning.
There was a lot of conversation early in the season about Gia Gunn getting the villain edit. What do you think about the “villain edit?”
Alaska: I think these terms are bandied about and I don’t know if they are generally accurate. I think Gia Gunn went in there with her Gia “boom-boom, guns blazing” and she said, “I’m going to be a bitch,” and I’m going to talk like drag queens talk.
Willam: Did you see The Switch in Chile? She did the same thing there! She knows how to make good TV and she’s entertaining.
Alaska: If anyone designated Gia as a villain, she did it herself and she knew she was doing that. She was in control.
So you think it was Gia herself and not production?
Alaska: I think they get what you give them when you go in there. So if you give them that, then you get that. I don’t think saying production is this malevolent force that is warping the perception of what happens, I think it’s way worse on other shows than it is on Drag Race.
Willam: There’s a scene on my season where I went up to the camera guys and said, “In about 30 seconds, I’m going to go over there, loop the table, read Jiggly and then go back to my station and they were like, “You can’t tell us what to do!” and I was like “I’m just telling you you're going to have a great shot if you follow this.” That moment between Gia and Trinity, you can see how produced it is! I feel like the show has lost a little bit of its innocence with you know the fact that now everybody knows how it’s going to go.
Big Dipper [Race Chaser's producer]: Because you’re spilling it for everyone!
You know, on “The Pit Stop” after the All Stars 4 premiere, Trixie Mattel said she didn’t want to see a sponge and a cow every week. What do you think about queens showing up increasingly already aware of their brand?
Willam: The thing about catchphrases is, people have to catch them. Just because you shove them down people’s throats, doesn’t make them catchphrases or appetizing.
Alaska: I think that it’s the show evolving, and people get more and more ready to predict that that's going to happen. And so it doesn’t work like it used to. So just, use it sparingly. People of this generation don’t like being marketed to! They know when they’re being marketed at, and they hate it!